With great pleasure I offer the following thoughts as my contribution to Scott McLeod’s annual Leadership Day blog challenge.  This is my third contribution; my previous posts are here and here

What do I most want to prepare students for?

  • Robust, responsible, citizenship, defined broadly as full-blooded participation and contribution to the commonweal.
  • Life-long learning, the attitude and the aptitude to never stop developing themselves into who they wish to become.

Yet neither are possible, I believe, or at minimum both are greatly diminished, in the 21st century without a strong set of technological skills and savvy.

Accordingly, our schools need to become places where the development of such skills and savvy is a significant and express priority and commitment.

Accordingly, educators need to be role models of both robust, responsible citizenship and life-long learning, digitally skilled and savvy and willing and able to teach the same.

I want to challenge conventional wisdom here, my own and that of others, and suggest a reframing of the role of technology in our learning goals for students, taking the digital dimension from subordinate to superior.

This conventional wisdom takes that position that technology integration comes second, subordinate to our students’ learning goals (or our goals for them) and subordinate to our best pedagogical practices.   Tech is a (only) tool which serves those priorities.

We bristle when we are accused of advocating technology for technology’s sake–the horror!  Of course we are not, we indignantly respond.

A related piece of the conventional wisdom is the idea that schools can develop 21st century skills and prepare for 21st century success without using technology.   In the recent book A Leader’s Guide to 21st century education, Ken Kay and Val Greenhill argue that “4Cs instructional strategies do not require technology.”

There is value in both these positions, and I’ve expressed both in the past, but I’ve come to decide they are both half-wrong.

Mindset matters: if we adopt these general principles too strongly into our educational leadership world view, much of the decision-making we have to do will be strongly influenced, both consciously and unconsciously, by them.   It is important than to focus on these general conceptual understandings, surface them and engage them in order to shift our leadership as necessary.

Of course, these positions are still half-right.   Think of the mistakes we have made when we have thought we could just add technology to the mix of traditional learning and expected significant results.   Of course it is true in the elementary grades that student can learn the 4cs without computers in the classroom.

But these positions are also half-wrong.   There is now a tremendous opportunity for all of us to connect, collaborate, communicate, and contribute to the world and to whatever particular slice of the world is meaningful to us, but we have to have digital smarts to do so.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, Howard Rheingold has influenced me greatly on this; his vision of networked communities and the promise of rich, meaningful digital engagement, participation and contribution is hugely inspiring.

But participating effectively online is not a birthright of “digital citizens;” it needs to be learned, and it needs to be learned by the practice of doing it.

  • Learning to know when and how to focus our attention when navigating online environments,
  • learning how to evaluate critically online information,
  • learning how to develop, feed and nourish from, and sustain networks,
  • learning the construction of high-integrity, positive, and powerful digital footprints,
  • learning to productively post ideas and solutions where they will have impact and influence:

all are things which vastly advance our students into their futures, and all are things we should be teaching them as essential ends in themselves.

Furthermore, it is impossible not to recognize the extraordinary importance of continued, “life-long” learning which our fast-changing and economically precarious world demands of us all, and this learning is rapidly transitioning to online worlds in which success will be greatly enhanced by digital savvy.   John Seely Brown’s New Culture of Learning brilliantly makes this case, with vivid examples and lofty rhetoric.

Learning in an age of constant change simply never stops. In the new culture of learning, the bad news is that we rarely reach any final answers, but the good news is that we to play again, and we may find even more satisfaction in continuing the search.

In a collective, people belong in order to learn… Thanks to digital media, the range of available collectives is almost limitless.  They constitute an ocean of learning.

The organic communities that emerge through collectives produce meaningful learning because the inquiry that arises comes from the collective itself…

As I wrote in my previous post about Brown’s book, and yes, I am quoting myself, something I try to do only rarely:

Learning is everywhere–  omnipresent and omnichronous–  and if we who lead learning inside our school-houses refuse to recognize and harness this, we do so at our peril.

I no longer accept nor believe that we can educate students to be truly effective communicators, critical thinkers, collaborators, creators or life-long learners without a digital dimension.

I don’t think we can proudly send students out into post-secondary education nor to careers without ensuring they have strong digital skills and savvy– and we should be as serious about this as we are about most everything else.

This is our responsibility as educational leaders.

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